Friday, 24 November 2006

The depravity theory of design

This is an idea that's been floating around my head for years now. Thought i'd see if it made sense.

It boils down to this:
1) Everyone is a mixture of normal/nice/kind and wierd/embarrassing
2) In the 'real' world to get by and not be considered a mad person you keep the wierd/depraved side of you in a little hidden box whilst interacting with people.
3) In the virtual world the anonymity of dealing with organisations and people means that there is less need to only show the nice/normal side and hide the wierd side. Often the wierd/embarrassing can dominate.
4) Brands are so used to putting the most positive side of themselves forward that they ignore this different behaviour that occurs online.

My question is this:
Can brands appeal to this different mindset without damaging their reputation

In more detail:
Point 1 - We're all a mix of niceness, generosity, kindness, intelligence, humour but also, dark/dirty thoughts, selfish desires and greediness.
I happen to believe that the first set of attributes are far stronger in most people, but Point 2 says that although the second set is weaker, in normal behaviour with people it is completely repressed. We try, as much as possible, to show and emphasise the nice side - to strengthen our own brand.

Point 3 says that the anonymity allowed by the internet means people can open up the more greedy, selfish, fantasist side of themselves without being judged for it.

So point 4 is saying that currently brands believe they're still talking to real people in a 'real world' way, rather than adapting to the more selfish, greedy behaviour that is so possible on the internet.

Ryan air is an example of this 'Depravity Theory':
This site is appealing to the greedy in all of us.
Joking apart about terrible service at the airport, ryan air is generally pretty efficient and reasonably polite.Yet they haven't transferred that experience online as often seems to be the aim. Here the tone of voice entirely changes.


I need some more examples (excluding the obvious porn). Or ideas of organisations that would suit this approach.

Or is it simply a stupid idea with no legs at all?


Anonymous said...

Its a great idea roothers - think you meant to say that Ryanair is an example of "the depravity theory' in action - you might want to clarify that.

This reminds me of some work I've read which claims that autism and various psychological/personality disorders are kind of a dominant (though accidental) metaphor used in the design of social/community (web two) software. The claim is that this is probably not a good thing - but the parallel with your 'depravity theory' is that undoubtedly the darker, taboo, or generally repressed side of human behavioral or 'softer' inputs to design can provide unique insights as to eventual design output.

David Carruthers said...

As ever, you're right Sean (i'm assuming it is you). I've changed it to clarify the ryan air thing.

I'm not sure I get how autism is a metaphor for community software, unless it's something to do with the personality traits of the kinds of people who use it?

do you know where you read it? could be interesting.

Anonymous said...

'Autistic Social Software' by danah boyd - very very interesting and pretty much spot on.